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Be daring with breakfast: Just eat it
By JOY ROTHKE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2000
But Mom was also wrong. Cold cereals make a fine breakfast. Ask any expert.
Dr. Paul Lachance of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., is the breakfast man. He chairs the university's Department of Food Sciences and is a professor of food science and nutrition. In 1995 he published Nutritional Implications of Breakfast a study of 1,000 Americans. Only about 12 percent of those studied skipped breakfast. The other 88 percent ate everything from juice and cereal to leftover casseroles and coffee.
"Data supports the assertion that people are better off eating breakfast," Lachance says. He suggests consuming about 25 percent of your daily caloric intake at breakfast. Eating at home and keeping it simple may be the best way to go.
"Ready-to-eat cereal is a good choice," says Lachance, who eats Cheerios. "Choose one you like, and if you include skim milk and juice, you'll get about 35 percent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins because virtually all cerealmakers enrich their product."
Concerned about you or your kids consuming pre-sweetened cereals? Lachance dismisses it as a "tempest in a teapot. Except for dental decay, it has never been proven that sugar is harmful, and a number of double-blind studies have been done." In fact, most ready-to eat cereals have more vitamins than a bowl of oatmeal, though oatmeal has more fiber.
Lachance advises adults to stick with skim or 1 percent milk with their cereal. Kids, though, require more dietary fat, so children under age 2 should get whole milk; ages 2 to 5, 2 percent milk.
For busy working folks, restaurant breakfasts are a way of life. For others, they are weekend treats. But they can be a nutritional disaster zone. According to a number of psychological studies, we tend to "lose restraint" when sitting in a cafe filled with goodies, and say "bring it on" to gooey pastries, sizzling bacon and four-egg omelets.
The Rutgers study revealed the superior nutritional quality of homemade breakfasts. This doesn't mean an end to Sunday brunch. Just plan ahead. An omelet or doughnut or sausages every now and then is perfectly okay. And if you're able to, choose Canadian bacon over its more fatty American counterpart.
Christin Anderson, who teaches exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of San Francisco, is adamant about the importance of breakfasts. "About 90 percent of overweight people skip breakfast," she says, "and then a few hours later they're hungry and binge on high fat and calorie snacks."
Anderson always eats breakfast and varies her morning meal to keep it interesting. She suggests whole-wheat English muffins with fruit spread; yogurt, fresh fruit and toast; or oatmeal with low-fat milk and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Some ready-to-eat cereals pass Anderson's test, including Life, and low-fat granolas and muesli.
"I avoid the pre-sweetened cereals," says Anderson, who reminds those on weight-reduction regimes that highly sweetened cereals can really boost the breakfast calorie count.
Anderson also urges dietary vigilance when eating breakfast out, especially at chain and fast-food outlets. "Cereal and skim milk is always a good choice," she says. She also recommends juice, whole-grain muffins, or pancakes with yogurt and fresh fruit.
"Breakfast is my favorite meal," says dietitian Lois Maurer of Boston's Lahey Clinic. She recommends an intake of about 25 percent of total daily calories at breakfast. "You can eat it all at the same time, or in frequent small meals throughout the day. For example, I eat breakfast early, at maybe 5:30 or 6 a.m. Then at 9 I might have some yogurt, a piece of fruit at 10 and my sandwich at 12:30."
Many of Maurer's patients are diabetics or people trying to lose weight. For them, she recommends including some protein with breakfast. "Protein brings up the blood sugar nicely," she says, suggesting milk, yogurt or an ounce or two of meat.
"I guarantee you that people who regularly skip breakfast tend to eat uncontrollably at night," asserts Janet Regan Krich of the University of Illinois, Chicago. An instructor in the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, she believes that "people who eat something in the morning function better mentally and physically, and generally eat better all day."
If you're not hungry in the morning? Eat dinner earlier, and watch your late-night snacking. "It's probably a sign you've been eating too much and too late," says Krich.
Krich suggests consuming 25 to 30 percent of total daily caloric intake at breakfast. "It's okay for breakfast to be the largest meal of the day," she says. "At a minimum, aim for about 15 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrate. Breakfast doesn't have to include traditional breakfast foods. It can be anything you like that's satisfying and nutritious: cold pizza, PB&J between pancakes, pasta, a small piece or meat or chicken or cheese."
She also gives the green light to cold cereals (with the usual dental caveat).
"I have four sons," Krich says, "and I surrendered long ago in the cereal wars. Kids like to eat them, and with milk and some added fruit, nutritionally enriched cereals are fine. I try to combine the sugared and plain ones -- maybe mixing Frosted Flakes with Total."
An alarmist approach to nutrition just does not work, says dietitian Terri Lisagor of California State University, Northridge. "Balance, variety and moderation is the key to a healthy diet. The position of the American Dietetics Association is that there are no "bad foods." You have to focus on your total diet. There are no quick fixes.
"Most people are as concerned with convenience as they are with health -- that's why ready-to-eat cereals make a quick and nutritious breakfast. I eat Kashi and Shredded Wheat about five times a week. Read the nutritional information and eat the cereals made with whole grains and little or no fat," Lisagor says.
One thing the experts agree on is the importance of a good breakfast for children, and they cite many studies that demonstrate that children who eat nutritious breakfasts are better students.
"Breakfast is the perfect place to teach your children about good food choices," says Maurer. "For example, if they want to eat sugared cereals, have them, mix it with a good cereal like Cheerios. They'll learn about nutrition and variety."
According to the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., more than 72 percent of the 93,000 schools in the United States that serve lunch now offer breakfast to their students as well. Ten years ago, only 40 percent did.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.